Social Media and the Professional Archaeologist

This post spawns from a few recent experiences that have led me to consider the role of the professional archaeologist on social media platforms. We all recognize the power and potential of social media as a communicative device, especially as it relates to the communication and translation of scientific information for the general public. Whether a social media presence is meant to convey points of view or simply to report current news within a discipline or progress on particular field/lab projects, many of these platforms are situated to communicate anthropological/archaeological research to the public.  I am specifically interested in exploring the presence of professional archaeologists on Facebook, especially in regards to many of the Facebook pages that have popped up in the past few years that are described as places for the sharing and discussion of archaeological/anthropological research. To illustrate, below are a few descriptions provided by some of these public Facebook pages:

 

“If you’re an archaeologist get yaself in here, post some pics and vids, share some stupid stories, birch about the heat, the rain, the mud, the flies, the public, the contract. Maybe tell us about an amazing or not so amazing dig you’ve been on, whatever grabs ya. Feel free to post a link to something interesting but please leave with the link a quick synopsis of what it relates to, why you think it’s interesting, that sort of thing. Of late we’ve been getting a fair few airy fairy links and discussions about magical mystical fairy lands and we’re pretty chock a block full of all that for now. So in future if you post something along those lines, it will be removed, if you are a repeat offender we’ll then remove you. Enjoy the group, we have some great discussions and links and pics and fun in here.” (“Archaeology” FB Public Group)

 

“This group was formed to share and discuss information about archaeology. Pseudoscientific stuff will be removed; the poster of such will be warned once and removed from the group upon a second offense. Spammers will be removed upon the first offense.” (“Archaeology” FB Public Group)

 

“This is a meeting place for those interested in biological anthropology. We’ll post interesting current articles and various announcements to keep you tuned in to happenings in our subdiscipline.” (“BioAnthropology News” FB Public Group)

 

Now for an anecdote. As I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed a few weeks ago I came across a post on one of these pages (I won’t name names) that had linked to a notorious Southeastern conspiracy theorist (again, I won’t name names). Knowing that the links generated and shared on this pages come from professional researchers, students, as well as members of the public, I thought it appropriate to note that the link and the story were from a very unreliable source (I’ll note that no description was offered with the link itself). I was quickly met with a reply noting that this person knew the source was unreliable and that it was posted to incite discussion. I was somewhat taken aback and responded, noting that the public page itself had roughly 16,000 followers, and that highlighting pseudoscience may be counterproductive to the public outreach efforts of the page itself. At this point the moderator of the page (a professional anthropologist) chimed in and pointed me towards the page’s description noting that they post “the good, the bad, and the ugly” content related to the discipline, and that it was important to keep up on how the media portrays the field. At this point I decided not to respond any further, but was very uncomfortable with the scope and aims of the page, its moderators, and the experience itself.

 

(I will point out, before I move on, that despite this experience and the concerns it evoked, there are also very wonderful and well moderated Public Groups on Facebook aimed at sharing and discussing archaeological research.)

 

This experience bothered me for some time. It especially hit home because the unreliable story that had been posted concerned Southern Appalachian indigenous populations, the region in which I conduct research. This was a professional archaeologist who actively facilitated, if not encouraged, the sharing and discussion of pseudoscience among the public, among 16,000 members who come to the page to learn about anthropology because anthropology is fun and exciting! As professional archaeologists we wield an incredible amount of knowledge that people are actively fascinated with! People are enamored with archaeology, discovery, and the deep past; we know this. So, with the proliferation of social media as a communicative tool, what becomes our role in controlling the dissemination of archaeological research? What becomes our role in the complicated (even fragile) dance between the media’s sensationalization of archaeology, the public (who now consumes this media at a rate never before possible), and professional archaeologists?

 

I considered these questions for a few days and, seeing as this is really an ethical discussion at its core, decided to look to the SAA’s guide on archaeological ethics to see if social media presence has been considered. I guess it wasn’t really a surprise that the exhaustively lengthy 750 word ethical guide provided by the SAAs mentions nothing about social media. I did however pull a few passages that could be informative:

 

“Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation.”

 

“Archaeologists should reach out to, and participate in cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record.”

 

Of course what stood out to me here were the lines “promote public understanding” and “improving…interpretation of the record.” As I sat there thinking about where social media fits among these aims and ethical guidelines, and especially how “promoting public understanding” and “improving the interpretation of the record” related to defining our roles among consumers, producers, and brokers of archaeological knowledge, I received an email. This email contained the current newsletter, “The European Archaeologist” produced and distributed by the European Association of Archaeologists with a special section outlining the proceedings of a meeting that debated the relationship between archaeology and the public.

 

The proceedings, titled “Tübingen Theses on archaeology,” was produced by the annual meetings of the German Society for Pre & Proto-history from the session “Does the public create itself a different archaeology? Analyses of a power shift.” From the session, six theses were outlined concerning public participation and the role of archaeologists in facilitating the exchange of archaeological information. I want to summarize two of these theses here. The most relevant to my own interests was Thesis No. 5:

 

Thesis No. 5: Communication in social media improves the public debate on archaeology

It might be argued that the development of social media, i.e. blogs and platforms like YouTube, Wikipedia or Facebook is ostensibly a purely technological change. Actually, a major change in communication is behind this – towards dialogue with a potentially high reach within very short periods of time. In social media, numerous non-archaeologists have built up vast audiences, so that their interpretations of archaeology have an impact on many people. Archaeology which refuses to be present on such platforms, voluntarily renounces a role in public archaeological debate. Professional archaeology must be present on such platforms. Colleagues who engage in social media and who are, for example, blogging or interacting via Facebook, should be recognized for their commitment. They make a key contribution in archaeological debates with non-archaeologists. Measurable success in social media should be acknowledged as part of formal publication activity and a contribution to the positive reputation of the discipline.”

 

The important point here, to me, was that “In social media, numerous non-archaeologists have built up vast audiences, so that their interpretations of archaeology have an impact on many people. Archaeology which refuses to be present on such platforms, voluntarily renounces a role in public archaeological debate. Professional archaeology must be present on such platforms.” But what is the character of that presence? This is the question that remains unanswered, and the one that I first became curious about exploring. While we all recognize that a presence is necessary, we don’t seem to be exploring what it means to be present. Are we facilitators? Do we create spaces for discussion and sharing of information? Do we heavily moderate and filter? Do we voice our perspectives? What do the interactions between archaeologists and the public within a social media environment look like? How should they look?

 

These questions become even more critical when we consider the role of the media in reporting the information we generate to the public. I recently came across an article posted by a friend on Facebook about the ways in which journalists are often flawed in their reporting of social science research (link to the article: http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/1/22/10811320/journalists-social-science). The points made in this article are nothing new, and are all to be expected. The flaws however become increasingly important to consider as the wide majority of posts, articles, etc… posted to public archaeology groups on Facebook are presented in the form of popular articles. Thesis No. 4 of the Tübingen Theses touches on why this may matter to us:

 

Thesis No. 4: Archaeology should not be controlled by media suitability

Communications of archaeological institutions, like press releases, increasingly display the use of superlatives, the emphasis of historically well-known personalities and blatant references to breakthroughs in science. This tendency can be summed up in the keyword “mediatization”. As a consequence, the expected better usability of issues, interpretive patterns and questions means that scientific projects, or the work of competent authorities are aligned towards ‘media suitability’. It is certainly acceptable when archaeological projects prove to be media-suitable. But this should not become a key criterion for the selection of funding of topics, activities, questions, persons and projects. In an appropriate communication of archaeological work, also the illustration of the needs, requirements and of failure has to be integrated.”

 

Popular media articles are the majority of what is shared on social media platforms that target public audiences. These articles are probably the only source of information on archaeological research available to, or sought out by, the general public. The funding for archaeological and anthropological research comes from the public (in a way). The question of the archaeologist’s presence on social media platforms becomes more critical when the relationships between social media, public outreach, and potential funding trends are realized.

 

I know that I have strayed somewhat from the main point of this post, which was to explore our presence on social media platforms, but I think it is vital that we critically evaluate our place within those environments not only for ethical reasons related to public outreach, education, and the promotion of the archaeological record, but also for reasons that may, even indirectly, affect us and our ability to continue to conduct research.

 

I have no answers to these questions, but I hope this post was thought provoking, especially considering many of us write for blogs, post to Facebook, and even include social media outreach into the Broader Impacts sections of our grants. I know this post is preaching to the choir, but I think these are issues that deserve productive dialogue as the control, production, and consumption of the archaeological information that we ourselves generate is being shared, presented, and consumed in ways that are brand new to our discipline at a rate that has never been seen before (which should be exciting!). The power dynamics between the media, the public, and professional archaeologists have rapidly transformed over the last decade or two with these technological changes (which have very much induced a cultural revolution). To me, our role in these changing dynamics remains very unclear, and even contested, among professional archaeologists. We could benefit from a more critical evaluation not only of the role of archaeologists but also the role of research institutions more generally (university departments, museums, research institutes and centers, etc…) as effective brokers of anthropological knowledge and research between scientists and the public within a social media setting.

Jake Lulewicz

Links

SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics

http://www.saa.org/AbouttheSociety/PrinciplesofArchaeologicalEthics/tabid/203/Default.aspx

The European Archaeologist

TEA-Issue 47 Winter 2015

2016 Southeastern Archaeological Field Schools

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-indiana-jones-3699969-1280-720

Happy 2016! Even though the Spring semester just started, summer will be here before we know it and now is the time to start figuring out your summer excavation schedules. If you are running an archaeological field school this summer and are looking for students, staff or volunteers, SEACUnderground is here to help.  Send us a copy (via cranford@unc.edu) of your field school flyer and we will post it to our field school page here. Also, help us get the word out to students that this resource is available!

 

 

A Queer Perspective on SEAC by Sarah Bess

A little over a month has passed since SEAC 2015. This was my first SEAC, my first time meeting many of the southeastern archaeologists whose work I’d been engaging with as a graduate student, and my first “out” conference as a trans woman. I wrote about the experience at Binary Opposition, not expecting more than a dozen people to read it. I wrote as a means of catharsis, as a way of processing personal victories and traumas. I wrote mostly for myself, as I generally do. Then I published it on my blog, because why not?

My heart leapt into my throat when I checked my browser about an hour later to see that the post had reached over 100 views. By the next morning the count was over 300. I wished I’d taken more time to proofread and edit. If I had been out before, now I was really out. Over the next few weeks, I heard from colleagues who had taken the time to consider my essay. We talked about the future of the SEAC Sexual Harassment Survey; about the possibility of a formal ethics statement; about panels, committees, and initiatives to increase the diversity and inclusivity of southeastern archaeology; about making the field, the lab, and the classroom safe for trans* experiences, trans* perspectives, and trans* bodies. It was encouraging to meet with such openness and such willingness to engage with the issues that I had wrestled with, but been unable to bring up directly, over the last few years.
As Shayle Matsuda’s recent piece in Wired pointed out, trans* people face unique barriers in field science. In order to make room in southeastern archaeology for more trans* scholars, we need to be willing to recognize and address those barriers in the classroom, lab, and field. In order to open our discourse to trans* perspectives, we need to be willing to listen to trans* voices. That many SEAC members have expressed a desire to do these things leaves me humbled, overwhelmed, and proud to be a part of this particular corner of archaeology. As a graduate student and a relatively new member of SEAC, I’m incredibly excited for the future.

I hope to turn my humble blog at Binary Opposition into a place not only to share my own perspective but to amplify queer voices from across the anthropological discipline. Maybe that’s not so humble, but we’ll see where it goes. I welcome submissions from queer anthropologists within the SEAC community and beyond regarding personal experiences, practical concerns, and theoretical discussions. It’s sort of open-ended. Things may be slow for a while, but I hope you’ll all keep listening.

 

 

A big thank you to Sarah for writing SEAC Underground’s first guest post!  We look forward to reading more at Binary Opposition and hope more trans voices are heard across the scientific community.  

We (the SEAC Underground staff writers) think it is important to continue the discussion of how southeastern archaeology can be a more inclusive place for all.  Let’s keep the conversation going!  

 

A Belated Congratulations to our SEAC Student Paper Competition Winners!

Student paper comp

Let me begin by extending a huge SEACUnderground “Thank you” to everyone involved with putting on an epic SEAC 2015 in Nashville, including the SEAC Executive Board, the Meeting Organizing Committee, and all the volunteers!  Thank you also to Ashley Schubert and the rest of the SEAC Student Affairs Committee for organizing the fantastic students events this year.  And lastly, thank you to the SEAC Student Paper Competition Committee for reading all of the submissions!

This year’s first place winner is Jacob Lulewicz (University of Georgia and brand new SEACU contributor!!!) for his paper- A Bayesian Radiocarbon Chronology for Northwestern Georgia, A.D. 700-1400. 

Second place went to Brandon T. Ritchison (University of  Georgia) for his submission- Evaluating Population Movement using State Site File Data: Understanding the Irene Phase Transition on the Georgia Coast.

Congratulations Jacob and Brandon!!

giphy

 

Proposed Legislation threatens Florida Archaeology: A Call to Action

A troubling new piece of proposed legislation (HB 803) puts Florida’s submerged (and likely all) cultural resources on public lands at risk by amending the state’s statutes relating to the discovery of “isolated” historic or archaeological artifacts.  The changes would compel the state to implement a program by which private individuals could apply for an annual permit (for $100) that allows them to “discover” and remove artifacts on State submerged lands and even officially transfers ownership of these artifacts to the permit holder. The only legal requirements: 1) individuals have to promise to report their finds and 2) no tools are allowed for excavation… ***EXCEPT*** trowels, shovels, or any other “hand-held implement” (jeez, I’m glad they narrowed that down).

While this bill ostensibly only applies to submerged and isolated artifacts, this change in the statutes would in effect endanger all archaeological and historical sites on public lands.  There are so many issues that could come out of this, but two huge problems I see with this legislation are these:

First, applying the term “isolated” to essentially all artifacts found in rivers or lake bottoms assumes a priori that they are not part of sites with potentially intact contexts.  Indiscriminate digging certainly does not facilitate determining if such contexts are present. As one of our own SEACU contributors can attest (ah-hem…Morgan Smith), important stratigraphic sites can be found in underwater contexts! And to rely on non-professional diggers to make such determinations (who potentially stand to make $$$ by selling said artifacts) is like putting the fox in the hen-house and saying it can eat only the “abandoned” eggs.

Second, even though this bill deals exclusively with submerged public lands (lake bottoms and rivers), I suspect that it would be incredibly difficult to prevent dry land digging once access was granted.  I suppose it is a matter of trust to hope that permit holders will restrict their activities to rivers and lakes, and that they will report honestly, but when there is a financial incentive to mine public lands for artifacts, that trust evaporates. The stated maximum penalty for violations of this program being only $1000 does not seem like it would be an effective deterrent when a quick search of eBay suggests “authentic” artifacts can bring in multiple thousands of dollars for a single piece.

I understand that looting and theft of natural and cultural resources already occur on public lands with disturbing regularity, but the solution should not be to simply open the doors to looters for $100 a pop.

If you live in Florida, or work in Florida, or if you know people in Florida, please contact the appropriate state representatives and encourage them to reject this attempt to legalize the destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage sites on public lands!

PS. What did I miss?  I know there are other important facets to this issue. Please feel free to add to this conversation in the comments!

PPS. Thanks to Tanya Peres Lemons for bringing this to our attention here at SEACU.

3D Modeling a Historic Type Collection- A SEAC Teaser

hardaway3D

I hope everyone is as excited about SEAC 2015 as I am!  In anticipation for all of the papers, posters, panels, and presentations this week, I wanted to offer a preview of some of the work students and staff at the Research Labs of Archaeology (UNC-CH) have been doing lately.

Gearing up for a future virtual museum, Steve Davis and students at UNC have been experimenting with 3D modeling using a photogrammetry technique called structure-from-motion. Using AgiSoft’s Photoscan software, they are able to stitch together multiple overlapping digital photographs of either artifacts or archaeological exavations, to create highly accurate, scaled 3D models.

One of the first 3D projects the RLA is undertaking is to digitize the type specimens from the foundational work of North Carolina archaeology: “The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont” by Joffre Coe (1964). This publication was the first major culture historical synthesis of archaeology in the Carolinas.  Relying on the stratigraphic excavations from the well-known Hardaway and Doershuk sites, Coe literally wrote the book defining the Late Paleoindian to Woodland Periods.

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Now the projectile point type specimens are viewable in 3D!!! (This is still an ongoing project and additional models are being added as they are completed). Check out the models here: http://sketchfab.com/rla-archaeology

https://sketchfab.com/models/130cd4b7821346b39c6ed8ea5d011190/embed?autospin=0.2

Hardaway Side-Notched (690a293)
by RLA Archaeology
on Sketchfab

 

If you are interested learning more about this stuff, Steve’s paper is in the Friday afternoon session, “Archaeological Methods, Museums, and Specialized Studies”.

Hope to see everyone soon and travel safe!

Introducing our new members to their adoring public!

In honor of it being ONE WEEK from the best weekend of the year, I would like to introduce to you all the two newest members of SEAC Underground: Jake Lulewicz (University of Georgia) and Ashley Schubert (University of Michigan) who will be taking the place of me and Matt Sanger who have both moved on to jobs!  (Yayyyyy jobs!!!)

I cannot wait to see what they (along with Christina and Morgan who have already been rockin’ the SEACUG world) get into in the coming years!  To give you a little taste of what you might see coming down the pipeline in the coming years… let me tell you just a little bit of how awesome Jake and Ashley are!

In his words (with my commentary), Jake’s interests are rooted in the construction of social histories as a means to investigate the relational foundations of organizational complexity (a.k.a. really important stuff). His dissertation research focuses on Southern Appalachia (a.k.a. a really cool area) and seeks to develop a network theory of social change between A.D. 700 and 1300 (my very favorite time period). He draws from many methodological applications including social network analysis, Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon data, geophysical and geochemical prospection, settlement pattern analyses and spatial statistics, and archaeometric applications including ceramic petrography and bulk-chemical analyses (yeah, he’s a lot smarter than me!). 

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http://anthropology.uga.edu/people/grad_students/lulewicz_john/

In her words (again with my commentary), Ashley’s research focuses at the Cane River site—a prehistoric village in western North Carolina—to study domestic and public practices during early interaction with Mississippian groups. In addition to revisiting collections from Cane River and other previously excavated Pisgah sites, she is utilizing non-invasive geogphysical survey techniques to identify archaeological features (go you! wanna teach me?), and then targeting specific areas for excavation (check out the remarkably awesome photo below).  Ashley focuses on the role that cultural interaction plays in initiating and constraining social change. Ashley focuses in the Appalachian Summit (apparently, this is THE area to be right now), during the Pisgah phase of Cherokee prehistory (AD 1000–1500).

Shooby

https://www.lsa.umich.edu/ummaa/people/ci.schubertashley_ci.detail

I cannot wait to see what these two bring to the table.  And perhaps even more importantly, I can’t wait to sit down and chat with them and the rest of the SEAC Underground community in Nashville.  See you all there!!!